The new Southern Companion release "Shine a Little Light" has been nearly 2 years in the making so it is great to be able to report that it has been well worth the wait and that of the three albums so far, it certainly best captures the overall spirit and sound of the band. It forms a great Americana collection mixing the personal songs with those that have a story to tell. and is a real ensemble effort with the bands contributions really making some of these dongs live and breathe.
From the opening track "Billy's Brother" which is a true Americana classic shot through the prism of The Black Crowes and Smokey & The Bandit. Written in the third person we get an almost screenplay of lyrics as the song unfolds before us ending somewhat in tragedy with the tune of the Black Crowes "Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye" playing on a car stereo.
"Can I Get a Witness" is a delicious piano led ballad with some excellent guitar work running through the track. The title is synonymous with classic soul songs and Darren's vocals do have a somewhat soulful tinge to them and have never sounded better.
The early single which topped the itunes charts "Songbird" is a great little song and very personal as it is about his daughter and compares her journey to that of a young bird, so she gets the chance to go and "make feathered friends"
The title of the album comes from the chorus in "Can't Get There From Here", a track beautifully mixed with all members of the band perfectly clear from the delicate piano parts, and background organ through to the guitars. There is also a little funkiness in the verses that perhaps we've not seen before. A "Few Too Many" sees Darren entering into Chris Stapleton territory, it's just an acoustic guitar and heartfelt vocals over a song left deliberately to interpretation. It could easily be applied to a relationship, drugs or alcohol and is made all the more personal for being a solo performance.
"The Great American Mistake", deals with the perils of temptation on the road, "the great escape". The situation is painted pretty straight forwardly the offer of female company late in Memphis, "One night means nothing" however it ends with the affirmation "Tonight I sleep alone" after all "One little fault and the levee will break". There's a glorious slide guitar playing through the track
The album is full of little classics, "Lie To Me" again taps into Darren's soulful side and has enough hooks and sections to fill four songs. Again almost cinematic in the picture it paints, as we compare a failing relationship with that of boxing match. It is choc full of big fight imagery so Darren sings about being "on the ropes", "throwing in the towel" and "I can't stand to lose another round". With Darren alternating between at times almost talking the lyrics and then switching to Joe Cocker style full on vocals it makes for quite a performance. The band are on exceptional form on one of the stand out tracks.
The life of an Independent musician is never easy and "Already Gone" explores this. It was born from hitting a career high playing in Nashville while at the same time being far away from the ones he loved the most. The notion of getting comfort from repeatedly having to "pour my heart out every night to everyone but you" is really poignant. The band once again really come into their own on this track with excellent keyboard and guitars. "And In The End" is a fifty six second parting of the ways song. It's almost a fragment of a song, almost over as soon as it starts, just enough time to "divide up all our friends" and say "Goodbye"
"You Are Not Alone" starts with Darren gently crooning over an acoustic guitar before it eventually ups in pace and turns into an all out rocker with some CSNY style backing vocals for good measure. The album closes with something of an epic, "Last Rays Of The Sun" another song full of hooks and harmonies. It all makes for a classic collection of songs that more than justifies the two year wait, it might seems fanciful to say The Southern Companion are the UK's answer to Jason Isbell however my link to the album segued into Jason's "Heart On A String" so well that I thought at first it was a bonus hidden track, so maybe not so fanciful after all!